Monday, August 4, 2008

Mission: Fish & Chips

It's August already, again; it's the height of summer. You can tell because it's typically grey and brisk here in SF - while the rest of the country doubtless bakes, we wear heavy clothes and hats, because... well, I'm not going to say it's cold. No, not compared to other places. Not compared to Montreal, certainly. But it is not short weather. That's for sure.

So what do you do when it gets chilly in the middle of the summer? You turn inward - which for us means you head to the kitchen and start making stuff. That's our big mutual hobby - spending time in the kitchen, collaborating on food, keeping each other company, automatically switching roles from chef de cuisine to sous chef and back. Melissa always says that she was never able to share a kitchen until she started cooking with Jacob. Jacob similarly never allowed "help" when he was making food until he started working with Melissa. Neither of us had much interest in doing so - having encountered many well meaning but clumsy or inattentive or easily flustered "helpers" in the past.

We've been making food together for just under five years now, and at this point we talk very little about the tasks at hand - unless it is a fiendishly complicated recipe (as some of these have been - we're talking about you, lamb shank confit) we are able to split the work wordlessly and talk about other things that strike our fancy, or entertain our (safely isolated and out of the workspace) guests with whatever gabble we can come up with. We have far too good a time in the kitchen. We laugh a lot. We drink a lot. We visit a lot. For that hour or so, we and whoever's watching us (just watching - we don't take help!) are completely in the moment. Which is where you're supposed to be, right?

That actually is the point. Sure, right, you gotta eat. And we wouldn't do this if the food didn't taste good. And yeah, okay, we do like sharing it and seeing that people from all over the world are spending time with us (we do welcome your comments, by the way). But really the reason we keep doing this week on week is because it's a hell of a lot of fun to spend time with friends and family this way; even when things aren't going as well as they should in the kitchen or in their lives or in ours. That's fellowship, and there are few things better to share than that.

You know what else is good to share? Deep fried things. Let's get to cooking, huh?

Mis! En! Place!

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So, this week we're doing fish and chips with two batters: a scotch batter which uses stout (Guinness) and baking powder, and a blond batter that uses a pale ale (Anchor Liberty) and what seems like an outrageous amount of yeast (seriously). The fish, which is wrapped nicely in the paper there, is halibut; as called for directly in the recipe. We started with about 1.75 pounds of it.

So, first we mixed up one batter, and then the other, and then we put them aside for a while:

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These both doubled in size. Yes - that's a LOT of batter. Meanwhile we had peeled and cut the potatoes, and soaked them for an hour. (Chef Picard leaves the reader to their own devices when it comes to making the chips - so we followed the excellent recipe in America's Test Kitchen Best Recipe) Then we put them in for the first fry, and drained them:

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Then, we turned to the fish:

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Which we sliced into strips, and salted them, just so:

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Then we battered two ways. First we tried the blond batter:

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And within moments all we had left was this:

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So much for plating, eh? (Oh, that's the tartar sauce we made in the background. It was good too.) Okay, okay, we did plate. Blonde batter is on the bottom, scotch on the top:

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This was fantastic overall, though the blonde battered fish was the consensus favorite. Its was much lighter than the stout based batter, flakier, and tastier overall. The fish was perfectly cooked with a three minute dunk (that's what quality deep fryers get you, I suppose) and the chips were great as well (thanks, ATK). All in all this was an extremely easy dish, one that allowed us to do some serious visiting with our good friend who came over to help us wolf it down.

Note to selves: Next time we will skip the stout batter and just go with the blonde batter. Sorry, stout: you're better for drinking than you are for making fish batter.

Time, mis to eat: All told, about 90 minutes - half of which was spent waiting for the batter to rise.

Next up: Unclear! We're still kinda in fry heaven right now.

Blast from the past: Fiendishly complicated? Fiendishly good is more like it.

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